Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on July 22 issued a show cause notice to ESPN Software India Pvt Ltd, threatening legal action and recommendation of revoking registration of its channels to the Government for not providing signals to direct-to-home operators as per its directions.
TRAI has given three days time to ESPN to respond to the notice. “If no written statement of explanation is received within the time so allowed, the matter will be proceeded with on presumption that ESPN has nothing to offer in its defense,” said TRAI in its 18-page long notice issued to the broadcaster.
In the notice, TRAI has asked ESPN as to why a complaint should not be filed before Court to take cognizance of the contraventions of the directions issued by it on June 24, 2008.
The regulator had asked the sports broadcaster to modify its Reference Interconnect Offer (RIO) so that it offers its three sports channels - Star Sports, Star Cricket and ESPN - in the same bouquet as it does to multi service operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) in non-CAS (Conditional Access Scheme) area. TRAI had also directed ESPN to bill DTH operators 50 per cent of the rate it charged from the MSOs and LCOs, while asking the company to modify its RIO within 15 days.
ESPN and new DTH operators who have sought the three ESPN STAR Sports channels for the first time or renewal of existing contract for their DTH platforms were unable to reach any commercial agreement due the sports channel's demand for a higher bouquet price than what has been directed by TRAI. Currently, Tata Sky and new DTH entrants like BIG TV, Bharti and Videocon are said to be in talks with ESPN for sourcing its channels on their platforms.
When TDSAT had delivered the said two judgments, the concept of an add-on pack did not exist and hence, there was no occasion for TDSAT to go into the question of what should be the treatment/ pricing for channels of which add-on packs are made and the concept of an add-on pack was introduced by a DTH operator for the first time on June 6, 2008, when ESPN channels were sought to be introduced as an add-on pack.
ESPN has categorically and unambiguously offered to provide its services at 50 per cent of its non-CAS rates to all DTH Operators, but it only seeks that the ESPN channels be given treatment similar to the channels of other broadcasters like Zee and STAR, whose channels enjoy the benefit of a wide reach on all DTH platforms, whereas the channels of ESPN would have only a limited reach if provided as an add-on pack as indicated by one DTH operator.
According to TRAI officials, most of the other pay channel brodcasters had already complied with the its earlier directive on pricing for DTH platforms except ESPN.
When contacted, ESPN officials declined to comment on the issue.